Never let it it be said that I do not now how to bore the pants off people. I realise that there has been a lull in my blogging caused mainly by ongoing internet connectivity issues. But now I have found a little space in time in the school computer lab, all that I have got to offer you is an essay I have just composed for "The Bangkok Post's" current essay competition. The prize is a Google computer tablet. So if you're having trouble sleeping why not read the following... zzzzzzzz!
My Bangkok - Entry for “The Bangkok Post” Essay Competition – February 2013
At a very basic level, there are areas of Thailand’s sprawling capital where to be even an able-bodied pedestrian is to engage in a daily life-threatening gamble with unforgiving traffic. Bangkokians have developed a sixth sense about traversing roads and road junctions. They have well-developed survival techniques but “farangs” often stand perplexed - trying to muster enough courage to dodge endless lines of oblivious motor vehicles. It is time for pedestrian crossings with flashing lights, for sensible speed limits, for underpasses and above all for an education campaign that makes drivers realise that the safety of pedestrians takes priority over their own urgency to get from A to B. Diligent enforcement will also be vital. Parenthetically, I shall merely flag up the unspeakable difficulties faced by disabled pedestrians in Thailand’s capital for their plight deserves exclusive and sustained examination.
The city’s famous legions of taxis have a very significant role to play in facilitating movement around the greater urban area and yet foreign inhabitants frequently have great difficulty in communicating their desired destinations to drivers who customarily demonstrate minimal appreciation of those communication problems. Standard laminated city maps in both English and Thai ought to be available in every taxi with drivers being funded to attend short training courses that bolster their understanding both of English and of the important role they have to play in lubricating the multicultural wheels of this city. On wide arterial roads, there should be peak time priority lanes reserved entirely for public service vehicles – including taxis, making journey times significantly shorter. It is nonsensical even to contemplate the notion of a harmonious, culturally diverse Asian city when stuck in yet another interminable traffic jam.
So those are the first two proposals that should greet the new governor when he checks his in-tray that first morning in office and now let’s deliver the third item.
When it comes to personal communication tools, the world’s new shakers and movers are technologically very savvy and Bangkok itself has unwaveringly embraced these new technologies. However, long and short term visitors and new immigrants from all over the world are currently unable to access a comprehensive and well-maintained municipal website or officially maintained phone apps that will alert them to cultural or business events, restaurant locations, hotels, weather and transport news. That should be something that the new governor pushes from day one. Not everybody reads “The Bangkok Post” or its associated website which besides have different functions.
Unquestionably, Bangkok is an exciting, vibrant city but the key to accessing it and fully understanding it is reliable and lucid information. At Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang there should be free city guidebooks prominently displayed and replenished regularly, internet access points, friendly meeters and greeters and within the downtown area better signage and fixed city map displays, illuminated in judiciously selected locations. It’s these practical details that matter much more than bland election promises.
Sometimes this vast conurbation can appear rather dauntingly monocultural – possibly because Thailand itself has such a proud history of independence and self-reliance. But our planet is shrinking owing to increased geographical mobility and burgeoning interpersonal communication channels enabled by new technologies. Multiculturally speaking, if Bangkok is to join the premier league of world cities it must first recognise and accept that putting people first is the hallmark of every successful modern city – be it Berlin, Brasilia or Brussels. Yes, people - in all their beautiful, prismatic diversity. Should the new governor ignore this simple reality, his tenure will undoubtedly be doomed to failure.